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June 23, 2006

Resume Speak from Recruiters & HR Professionals

I recently had the opportunity to attend a panel presentation which consisted of recruiters and HR professionals from the local area (Target, Peace Corps, Cargill, Larson Allen and others). One of the topics they talked about was resumes.

They were asked, "What on a candidate's resume sets them apart from other candidates and puts them on the 'yes' pile?" The answer was suprisingly basic, but very useful:

* The resume is professionally formatted and well-written.
* Has absolutely NO errors (see Susan Gainen's post: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/lawcso/vocare/2006/05/no_interviews_got_typos.html).
* It is comprehensive and complete.
* Reflects the candidate's most transferable skills.

One of the resume issues raised was the problem they were experiencing with the electronic application process. Most of the employers who accepted electronic applications felt that far too many applicants didn't read the directions before clicking the 'send' or 'upload' button. While some of the organizations want Word (.doc) files - others prefer PDF files. And still, many employers will only receive text files (.txt). As a result of not preparing the document correctly, either the application materials don't make it through the system or the documents are unreadable (wingdings, random characters, etc.).

For more comprehensive resume advice and tips, visit CPDC's Career Files at https://inside.law.umn.edu/cpdc/careerfiles

June 21, 2006

In-House Counsel: Sound Interesting?

Many lawyers and law students express interest in eventually working for a corporation as in-house counsel. The attraction of this type of position is premised on satisfying work and a long-term relationship with a single client (and no client development responsibilities) combined with more "reasonable" hours. A recent New York Times article, "The Lure of the In House Job", (NYT, 6/16/06) explores this phenomenon. It can be found at the following link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/16/business/16legal.html

Whatever the advantages of working in house, remember that being the only lawyer in the room carries burdens as well as boons. You still need to be a solid lawyer, but you also need to think much more clearly about your client's needs as a business.

June 15, 2006

AMBIGUITY ALERT

Lawyers rarely get to field easy questions. Clients willing to pay hundreds of dollars an hour for lawyering will solve their simple problems and then pay handsomely for solutions to the Big Ones. Pro bono cases that go to a Supreme Court were not resolvable along the way. Whether at work or at a cocktail party, the "one quick question" more often than not is a case of first impression -- by definition, a hard question.

If all of the questions are HARD QUESTIONS, how do you prepare for your first legal job? After 16+ years of sucess at pre-legal education with clear directions, well-lit signposts and consistent recognition and rewards, how can you be expected to work without a roadmap? Isn't law practice like working without a net?

Not exactly. There is a roadmap and a net, but the nature of law practice often means that you will have a hand in drawing the map and weaving the net. Neither will be handed to you in the same way that your TORTS syllabus was posted on the web.

CLARITY FROM A WISE HIRING PARTNER: After being peppered with questions about preparation from his incoming summer associates, one very wise Hiring Partner said, "Part of how we evaluate you is on your ability navigate ambiguity and to figure out how to solve a problem." He was delighted to be welcoming, but unwilling to draw a detailed roadmap with instructions for specific tasks which he believes are more appropriatly learned by doing real work and solving real problems.

There is no "teacher's guide" to law practice. The hard questions that lawyers work on every day require:

1. Focus on the client, whether an internal senior attorney or external paying or pro bono client.

2. Ability to look at the problem through the client's eyes and not necessarily through the lawyer's lens. A client needs an evaluation of the problem and a recommendation for action. "I couldn't find anything on point" is neither an evaluation or a recommendation.

3. Willingness to consider the work product as the ultimate customer will use it. If the client or judge will read a paper document, you must read and edit a paper version before sending out, even if you will use an electronic delivery method.

4. Willingness to accept criticism and to interpret a new language of praise. Lifetime High Academic Achievers may have had life-long "critique" from teachers, friends and family that looks like this: "A+; excellent analysis; well-done!" Work is a new world with different standards. Sometimes you'll know that you're doing well if no one is yelling at you. At other times, the "atta-boy!" or "atta-girl" will be all of the timely feedback you'll get on a project.

Your ability to navigate this new world -- to weave the net and draw the map that help you find the norms and your comfort zone within them -- will be one measure of your success.

June 7, 2006

True Confessions (or "Do I Really Need to Tell Them About That?")

Bar examiners and prospective employers are increasingly asking for more information about your past as part of their "due diligence" before either certifying you for practice or hiring you as a permanent employee. Recent lapses in background verification, such as one well-publicized event at a local Twin Cities law firm, have raised warning flags for bar examiners and hiring authorities throughout the legal community. In addition, law schools are often asked by bar certification authorities for copies of an applicant's previous application to law school to compare with the paperwork submitted in support of bar admission. Discrepancies can get you in trouble with both the bar and your law school.

What to do? Our blanket advice is simple: "When in doubt, disclose." None of us has a completely pristine past and, for the most part, except for felony convictions, what happened when you were a rambunctious junior in high school won't keep you from the job of your dreams. That said, if there is anything that you think would give a reasonable person pause before allowing you to represent clients and collect a pay check, say so early on. At a minimum, you will be able to begin to address any concerns, apparent or real, that might preclude you from practicing law well in advance. You will also appear responsible, mature and, yes, professional. If you need background documentation, collect it before you disclose so that you can quickly provide answers to requests for more information. If you cannot obtain such documentation, explain as much about the circumstances as possible in detail, as well as why you can't provide paperwork at this time.

Finally, remember that, until you are admitted to the bar or officially hired, you are usually under a continuing duty to disclose information. In other words, if you get arrested the night before the bar exam on a DUI charge, you better let someone at the board of law examiners know, however embarrassing that may seem.

June 5, 2006

What is "Project Finance?"

The folks at the Harvard Business School have created a Project Finance Portal to answer all of your questions about the practice, and they have provided a list of law firms where the work is done. The "Best Lawyers in America" lists project finance practitioners.

June 2, 2006

1200 Seconds to Success: The Screening Interview

Tips on Interviewing Strategy freely adapted from an undated six-page document credited to GRANT THORNTON found in a file that hadn't been opened since 1991. Some things never change:

1. Be on time.
2. Know the interviewer's name and use it in the interview.
3. Bring a resume, transcript, writing sample and list of references. You will appear prepared.
4. Expect to spend some time developing rapport. Check the morning news for current events.
5. Take care with non-verbal communication. Have a strong handshake, keep good eye contact and don't fidgit.
6. Don't let your nerves take control. Interviewers are lawyers who put their pants and panty hose on one leg at a time -- just like you do.
7. Don't play the comedian or try to entertain the interviewer unless you are interviewing for show biz job.

8. Don't exaggerate.
9. Follow the interviewer's lead unless the interviewer doesn't let you speak. Then you must take control and share Kimm Walton's "three things" that the interviewer must know before you leave the room.
10. Be prepared for personal questions -- even inappropriate ones.
11. Pay attention to the conversation. Zoning out sends bad signals.
12. Be sure that you understand each question. It's ok to ask for clarification.
13. Emphasize the positive.
14. Don't interrupt.
15. You may pause to gather your thoughts before answering a question, but remember that there is a big difference between "pause" and "dead air."
16. Know how your skills and talents should work for the employer.
17. Be honest. Don't try to "tell the interviewer what she wants to hear."
18. Never argue with an interviewer. No good can come of it.
19. Never speak ill of a former employer, colleague, teacher, institution or friend. Murphy's Law says that you will be talking about your interviewer's mother, brother or alma mater.
20. Admit your mistakes. It's better to stumble and appear honest than to be caught later and assumed to be a liar.